Cubs Record: 44-19 (1st Place NL Central)
W: Hector Rondon (1-1, 1.23)
L: Sammy Solis (1-2, 1.71)
MVP: Albert Almora Jr.: 1-1, 2B, 1 RBI
The Cubs looked to even their series against the NL East-leading Washington Nationals Tuesday night with John Lackey, in the midst of his best stretch of the season, took the hill. While nothing is decided in June and the concept of statement series/game is a tired media narrative, the game did feel a bit like October.
The Cubs drew first blood off Nats starter Gio Gonzalez in the top of the 3rd inning. A Lackey single, followed by a Dexter Fowler double, set the stage for a two-run single by Jason Heyward. The Nats answered back with a Jason Werth sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame.
David Ross drove in Ben Zobrist with an RBI hit in the top of the 4th to make it 3-1. The Nats threatened in the 7th, putting men at second and third with none out against Lackey. Pedro Strop came in and pitched very well to escape the jam, but a Ben Revere sac fly cut the lead to one.
After Travis Wood unintentionally walked Bryce Harper and retired Daniel Murphy in the 8th, Joe Maddon got aggressive, putting in Hector Rondon for a 5-out save. The Cubs closer allowed a Ryan Zimmerman single and an Anthony Rendon sac fly, (all three Nats runs came on sacrifice flies) to blow the save.
Chicago was able to respond to the 8th inning adversity in fine style. An Addison Russell walk and David Ross bunt set things up for defensive replacement Albert Almora. The young Cubs outfielder lined a double into the gap to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead and Rondon was able to preserve his own win with a one, two, three ninth.
Lackey battled through six-plus innings on Tuesday night. Big John was able to escape jams in the 3rd and 5th innings with limited damage. His final line, 6 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 7 K, and 2 BB, was good enough to keep the Cubs in the game.
David Ross had a very nice game offensively, including an RBI single, walk, and the bunt that set up Almora’s winning double. Almora, who has looked pretty impressive so far on the big club, showed the moment wasn’t too big for him by ripping the first pitch he saw for the winning double.
Strop has looked absolutely nasty his past few outings. About a year ago, he blew a save against the Cardinals with Bob Costas announcing for MLB Network. Costas was rather hard on the Cubs reliever, calling it “an atrocious outing” if I remember correctly. The tables have turned, and the diminutive announcer was all praise for Strop this time around. Good to see.
It’s hard to find anything really bad about this Cubs effort tonight. If I have to nitpick something, I was kind of lukewarm about going for a five-out save. The logic makes sense on one level, put your high-leverage reliever in the biggest spot of the game. Not to mention, Rondon has a limited inning total so far this season, so freshness wasn’t really an issue. I think my problem is that this is not normal for Hector, he had never attempted a five-out save, and I’m not sure it put him in a position to succeed. It worked out for the Cubs in the end, it just made me a bit nervous.
Ryan Zimmerman has not had a lot of fun against the Cubs this season. Even after a key hit in the 8th inning Tuesday, Zimmerman is 3-27 with 9 strikeouts against Chicago hurlers. Seems safe to say, Mr. Walk-Off will be happy to see the Cubs leave Nationals Park.
Jason Hammel, 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA and fresh off a tough loss in Atlanta, looks to take down the still-unbeaten Steven Strasburg (10-0, 3.03) at 3:00 CST. Strasburg has looked almost human of late, allowing 18 runs his last seven starts. Still, it will be a big challenge for the Cubs and one that they hope to meet for a series win in Washington.